Tag Archive for Critical Mass

A look at tonight’s Critical Mass

I confess. I’ve never ridden a single Critical Mass.

It’s not that I’m against it. Although personally, I don’t think we win friends by reinforcing the motoring public’s perception that bikes never stop for red lights or that we inconvenience drivers needlessly.

And it would be fun to celebrate our right to ride with a few hundred — or in tonight’s case, more likely a few thousand — like-minded riders. Especially when there’s a point to be made following last month’s Critical Mass Takedown.

If I was still single, I’d probably be a regular at rides like this.

Then again, if I was single, there’s a lot of things I’d do that I don’t do now.

However, as a married man, I have other obligations. Which means that events that take place on nights and weekends are usually out for me, as much as I might like to join in on the fun.

But in my book, family comes first.

Then again, it’s not like anyone is likely to miss me. Tonight’s CM promises to be one of the largest the city has ever seen, including a number of the local biking community’s more prominent members who don’t normally participate on a regular basis.

Representatives from the LACBC will be there. Bikeside will undoubtedly be there, along with the Ridazz. And the rapidly growing Eastside Bicycle Club — which celebrates its second anniversary at Lincoln Park on Saturday — will no doubt be represented.

Even the LAPD’s point man for bike issues, Sgt. David Krumer, will be there — in fact, he’s hoping to have his picture taken with Plebis Power, author of the popular CM poster parody.

And he won’t be alone.

The Los Angeles Police Department will not only be attending the ride, they expect to participate in some way. While they readily acknowledge that this is an experiment, they’re committed to finding a way to more effectively police and support the ride, without the heavy-handed problems of last month.

Police cruisers, they promise, will be kept in the background unless needed. And there won’t be a crackdown on “ticky tacky” violations as some riders have feared — such as bikes without side reflectors, for instance.

But cyclists will be expected to have lights and brakes — defined as being able to skid on dry pavement, for you fixie aficionados. And anyone under 18 needs a helmet, as required by state law.

The department is encouraging leaders within the ride to step — or maybe roll — forward to help self-police the ride to keep officers from feeling the need to step in themselves.

And they offer three key points to remember as you ride tonight —

  • People are encouraged to follow the rules of the road
  • The police will not be corking intersections — though they reserve the right to change their mind if it becomes necessary
  • Riders will be expected to stop at all red lights unless instructed otherwise

I’d also like to add a little advice that Sgt. Krumer offered earlier this month, not just for Critical Mass, but anytime you find yourself dealing with the police —

  • Stop if a police officer instructs you to
  • Be polite and respectful, even if you don’t think you did anything wrong — “No sir” or “Yes ma’am” will go a long way towards avoiding any problems
  • Don’t try to correct the officer, even if you know the law better than he or she does — some officers may see that as being combative, which could cause things to escalate unpleasantly
  • If the officer writes a ticket, just accept it quietly and fight it in court later

Finally, if you think you’ve been treated unfairly, contact the watch commander at the officer’s precinct. Or contact anyone involved with the department’s Bike Task Force — such as myself, the LACBC, Bikeside, Carlos Morales or bike activist extraordinaire Stephen Box, just to name a few, and we’ll contact the department on your behalf.

And yes, you do have a right to film or photograph any police officer in the performance of his or her duties — despite what you might have seen — as field officers were recently reminded.

But you might not want to push the point, especially if you value your iPhone.

Now have fun.

And stay out of the news.

………

The teenage suspects in the car racing death of pro cyclist Jorge Alvarado plead not guilty. The LACBC calls on LADOT to do sharrows right, and endorses the Wilshire Bus (and bike) Only Lane along with the Green LA Transportation Working Group. Council Member Tom LaBonge’s police-accompanied group ride along the new 4th Street sharrows was “like Critical Mass, but with gray hair and guns.” Your tentative route for CicLAvia is unveiled. A Bay Area cyclist is killed after broad-siding a truck, possibly while trying to set a downhill speed record. A Folsom man dies shortly after falling from his bike on a local bike path. Bike Attorney Bob Mionske looks at the Black Hawk bike ban and not surprisingly, finds it violates Colorado law. A leadership vacuum on bike issues in Chicago; sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Ikea tries to veto bike lanes in Brooklyn.­ Even in Missouri, you can have a ride from hell — although that loud long horn could be a friend trying to say hi. A student riding across country to raise money for charity is killed by a car in New Mexico. The new Oklahoma law that allows cyclists to run red lights that don’t change doesn’t actually allow cyclist to go through red lights after all. FedEx says call the police if one of their trucks blocks a bike lane because their not going to do anything about it. A Pittsburgh area cemetery — final resting place of perhaps the greatest player in baseball history — opens its gates to cyclists. Who needs bike parking when you’ve got a good fence? UK cycling rates are up, while deaths are down. If you’re planning a bike ride, it helps to know where the keys are. A driver loses her license for killing a cyclist while trying to toss a spider out of her car. A woman barely survives a brush with a massive truck as horrified bystanders look on.

Finally, I dare anyone to run you off the road on this bike.

Friday’s Critical Mass — making a point through parody

It seems like everyone is anticipating this Friday’s L.A. Critical Mass  — whether with excitement or trepidation — especially in light of the recent announcement that the LAPD intends to participate.

Some cyclists are planning to respond by observing the letter of the law and stopping for all red lights, regardless of the effect that may have on traffic. Or on the department’s ability to manage countless groups of riders converging on a single spot.

Meanwhile, a rider going by the name of Plebis Power — loosely translated, Power of the People — left a comment on a recent post that featured the department’s poster announcing their plans to attend the next CM, as well as on the LACBC’s blog. And in it, offered a link to a tongue-in-cheek response to the LAPD.

It’s pretty damn funny — and effectively makes a good point, while demonstrating that there are two sides to this story.

And I’m told that even the officer who created the department’s original poster found it pretty amusing.

………

Sharrows began hitting the streets on the Valley’s Reseda Blvd, making it the third of six locations scheduled to get them; bike lanes are still planned from Devonshire to Parthenia and Parthenia to Valerio. As for the others, I rode both Westholme Ave and Abbot Kinney over the past few days; no sign of sharrows yet.

………

Long Beach’s biking expats offer images from Music City. Good Samaritans save a cyclist who suffers a heart attack in Silicon Valley. How to safely navigate your way around trucks, and how drivers can safely navigate their way around you. A road-raging writer says he hates bike riders more than serial killers and TV pitchmen. U.S. Representative Earl Blemenauer and DOT Secretary Ray LaHood write about the new bike lane on one of the world’s most famous streets; now maybe our bike riding president can use his to get to the next State of the Union address. A Portland cyclist beats a ticket for carrying a passenger on his bike. Seattle gets its first buffered bike lanes. The RAAM rider critically injured in a Kansas collision still has no feeling from the waist down; still no word on charges against the driver. Oklahoma cyclists can now legally run red lights that don’t change. New York neighborhoods start to fight back against more bike lanes, while the city’s Sanitation Department revokes a misguided plan to remove ghost bikes. A bike riding first grader hit on the last day of classes shines a light on Safe Routes to School. New Florida road signs say “Ride Right, Drive Right.” Using lights to see and be seen. Lance Armstrong’s Radioshack team names its roster for the Tour de France; after his second place finish in the Tour of Switzerland, Lance may be competitive this year after all. Guerilla tactics to protect your bike. New Zealand authorities seek a teenage BMX riding groper. A cyclist wins in court after slipping in oil spilled by a farmer.

Evidently, it’s open season on cyclists in the Windy City. In a truly bizarre case, a Chicago judge celebrates their Bike to Work Day by giving two drunk drivers who intentionally sought out and hit two cyclists — actually changing seats so both would have a chance — to less than a slap on the wrist. One driver got 7 to 10 days in jail; the other was sentenced to two years probation.

LAPD Critical Mass takedown

By now, you’ve probably heard about the heavy-handed police response to Friday’s Critical Mass, which included a protest of the BP oil spill in the gulf. From all descriptions, it was a peaceful, friendly ride until it got to the Hollywood area, where police reacted in force.

I’m on the run this weekend, but in the meantime, here’s the official police statement and links to the story so far.

……..

Los Angeles Police Department Investigates Complaint of Use of Force Against Bicyclist

Los Angeles: Hollywood Area LAPD bike officers are involved in an incident that results in a complaint filed by representatives of the LA biking community.

On May 28, 2010 around 9:30 pm, LAPD Hollywood Area bike unit officers were patrolling the Entertainment District in Hollywood, at the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard, just east of Highland Avenue, when a group of bicyclists numbering approximately 400 traveled eastbound on Hollywood Boulevard.

As part of enforcement efforts, LAPD Officers were watching for red light violations, and issuing citations. As Officers attempted to detain several bicyclists, a reported use of force was captured on video.

“In response to what we learned, we immediately launched a full-scale investigation to determine the facts surrounding the events,” said LAPD Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger. “The Departments Professional Standards Bureau has taken the lead in the inquiry and the Police Commission’s Inspector General has also been made fully aware of the matter.”

Since November 2009, the LAPD Office of Operations has worked closely with representatives of the biking community to improve relations, make the streets safer for bicyclists and discuss and identify issues involving bicyclists that are problematic for the motoring public.

“Our Department takes seriously its obligations and commitment to all members of the community. The Chief of Police and I pledged our strong support to work closely with the bike community and that promise has not wavered. It’s our hope that the relationship we’ve developed with the biking community over the past months will be strengthened even more as we continue to work together to find solutions to difficult circumstances such as these.”

LAPD Internal Affairs Group is investigating this reported use of force incident.

……..

Cyclelicious: LAPD attacks CM cyclists

WeHo Daily: Bike Riders Protest BP, LAPD Takes Some Down; LAPD Launches Investigation of Bike Ride Video Incident

KABC TV-7: LAPD investigating officer excessive force

FromTheOld.com: Video – Hollywood police brutality against cyclists

LAist: Caught on Tape: Police Harass Bike Riders During BP Protest Ride; LAPD Launches Investigation of Use of Force Against Cyclists Captured on Video

LA Figa: Caught on Tape: Hollywood LAPD Bash Bicyclists During BP Protest Ride

LA Independent: Video appears to show use of force by LAPD officers during protest ride in Hollywood

Bikeside LA: Hollywood LAPD Assault/Harass Cyclists on LA Critical Mass; Los Angeles Police Protective League – Hollywood bike incident statement; Los Angeles Police Department Investigates Complaint of Use of Force Against Bicyclist

LA Curbed: Cyclists Storm Hollywood, But What’s Going on Here?

LA Times: LAPD to investigate scuffle between officers and BP protestors

Midnight Ridazz: CM Police Brutality

Legman LA: LAPD Confronts Anarcho Cyclists

Ruminating on personal responsibility, part 2

“Some people claim that there’s a woman to blame

But I know it’s my own damned fault.”

— Jimmy Buffet

 

— Bart Simpson

“I didn’t do it, nobody saw me do it, no one can prove anything.”

 

I got a nice surprise yesterday. Due to some issues at the new job (and boy, do they have some issues), I found myself with an unexpected day off. And looking out the window, I also found an unexpected, end-of-season heat wave providing near-perfect riding conditions — and a perfect opportunity to take advantage of it.

So I lubed the chain, wiped off the grit and sand from my last few rides, and took off for the coast. I thought I might take advantage of the weather by riding the entire Marvin Braude Bikeway, from my home in Westwood up to the northern end of the path at Will Rogers State Beach, then south through Santa Monica and Venice, around the Marina, and down along the South Bay section through to where it ends at Palos Verdes, and back again — 59 miles from door-to-door.

I knew I really wasn’t up to it after sitting behind a desk for the last two-plus weeks, with only one day in the saddle since mid-September. But knowing how rare days like this really are, and not knowing when I might have the opportunity again, I vowed to press ahead — knowing full well the price I was going to pay. (On the other hand, that was nothing compared to this guy’s next ride.)

And pay I did.

I spent the next three hours after my ride completely spent, stretched out on the couch, and twitching and jumping every few minutes due to the frequent leg cramps. Between an amino acid, protein, watermelon and banana shake, a couple Excedrin and lots of caffeine, the cramps finally subsided, though the aches and pains lasted through the night, keeping me awake much of the night.

But I take full responsibility. I knew exactly what I was getting into, and made a conscious decision to do it anyway.

And believe me, it was worth it.

Of course, it’s easy to assume responsibility when the only consequence is a few aches and pains. It’s much harder when there are real consequences involved.

Like my road rage incident a few years back. I had no problem at all blaming the woman who deliberately hit my with her car for refusing to share the road, and taking her anger out on me. But it took me years to accept the flat-out stupidity of flipping off the angry driver behind me.

She bears full responsibility for her actions – despite the fact that she got away with it. But I have to take responsibility for my own actions, as well.

Or take civil disobedience. From Thoreau to Saul Allinsky, civil disobedience has been recognized as a powerful tool for change. But a key component of civil disobedience is a willingness to accept the consequences of your actions — to intentionally break the law to protest its unjustness, knowing its full force will come to bear against you.

Gandhi understood that, as did Dr. King. Both were repeatedly subjected to jail, or worse. And both ultimately paid the highest possible price. But they both understood and accepted the risk, and the responsibility.

That part of the equation seems to be largely forgotten today.

At its core, Critical Mass is an act of civil disobedience. The riders routinely break traffic laws in a mass demonstration, in order to promote cycling and make bicyclists more visible and accepted, both by the public and by law enforcement.

But like any other act of civil disobedience, there can be consequences, from tickets for various traffic infractions  — both justified, and unjust — to accidents and injuries, like what happened in Seattle awhile back. Whether right or wrong, deserved or otherwise, it is an entirely foreseeable consequence. And participating means accepting responsibility for the outcome, whatever that may be.

Of course, accepting your own responsibility does not absolve the other parties, either. They are wholly responsible for their actions, just as you are for your own.

So if a cop writes you an illegal or unfair ticket, you are perfectly entitled to fight it in any way necessary, whether through the court system, the departmental disciplinary system, the city government or the court of public opinion. Or if a driver gets tired of being corked and forces his way out through the cordon of riders, he can and should be held accountable for his actions.

Will gets that.

In his recent chin-first encounter with the rear of a minivan, he took full responsibility for looking down as he climbed a hill, and not paying attention where he was riding. Yet at the same time, he held the driver responsible for double-parking in the traffic lane when there was a parking space available right next to her.

Both were equally responsible for their own actions.

Tamerlane gets it too, as evidenced by his recent posts about ethics and vulnerability.

So if you blow through a stop sign and get a ticket, it’s your own damn fault. If you run a red light when there’s traffic around, whatever happens is your responsibility – regardless of whether the drivers should have seen you or been able to stop in time.

They’re responsible for their actions, you’re responsible for yours.

And if you choose to ride without a helmet, or after dark without lights, or ride at dusk on the wrong side of the street, you have already accepted the consequences, whatever they may be. Because, by your actions, you are shifting responsibility for your safety to those around you — and they may not choose to assume it.

Or if, like me, you’ve been riding without licensing your bike — whether or not you were aware that it was even required — you are responsible for that if you happen to get stopped by the police.

As I’ve said before, the highest responsibility of any bicyclist is to ride safely; that is, to ride without causing undue risk to yourself or the people around you.

That does not necessarily mean obeying the law in every instance. It means assuming responsibility for your own safety, as well as the safety of other people who may be affected by your actions, and making the best possible choices for everyone involved. Sometimes that means stopping for the red light, and sometimes that means going through it. But whatever you do, doing it for a damn good reason.

I haven’t always done that myself, as that road rage incident, my encounter with the bees, and a few other accidents clearly indicate. But in each case, I’ve tried to learn from my mistakes, so I can make better decisions next time.

So stop and think when you get on your bike, and learn to ride safely.

Because we are each responsible for our own actions.

And we all deserve to get home in one piece.

 

A bicyclist is killed and his companion injured in Carson; Damien Newton takes the press to task for misleading reports that seem to blame cyclists. Meanwhile, Steve Hymon asks if that crack is a bike lane or the San Andreas fault, and gets an immediate response — and action — from County Supervisor Don Knobe. Must be nice to have the power of a huge regional daily behind you. And San Francisco’s Cycling Examiner parses the meaning of that octagonal red sign with the white letters.

A not-so-brief lesson in social protest.

Let’s spend just one more day discussing the recent crosswalk protest in Santa Monica. Or more precisely, the reasons behind the protest and what can be done about them.

As Alex points out in his post about the crosswalk protest, the Santa Monica CM riders have tried everything they could think of to get the city manager, council members and police to work with them to in finding solutions that would work to everyone’s benefit. The only result was more tickets, and more ham-handed police tactics, as if this was the most important item on their agenda.

So what can be done, if nothing has worked?

Start by thinking like a politician. While there are some elected officials who really do want to do the right thing, what matters most to most pols these days are A) the votes they need to get re-elected, and B) the money they need to get those votes. Yes, it sucks, and yes, we all like to pretend that’s not the case, but that’s the system we’re living with these days. So deal with it, already.

And judging by the reaction, the city is more concerned about the people who complain about Critical Mass, than they are about the votes they might lose from CM riders — many of whom live outside the city.

So that leaves money. If one or more of those C.M. rider have extra-deep pockets, it’s game over. Just make the maximum donation allowed under law to the re-election funds of every council member, and drop a hint that it would be nice if the police backed off a little. Then just wait a reasonable amount of time, and the council will decide that maybe Critical Mass isn’t so bad after all.

On the other hand, no deep pockets means you’ve got to get a little more creative.

Get the public on your side. People love underdogs in this country, and want to support those who are being treated unfairly by government — especially in a left-leaning community like Santa Monica.

So why aren’t the people on the cyclists side here? After all, the cyclists are the victims here, at least in terms of being unfairly — and possibly, illegally — ticketed. (Hint: protests that keep them from getting home to their families don’t usually help.)

Get some publicity. Tell your side of the story to anyone who will listen. Talk about why Critical Mass exists, and why you ride like relatively well-behaved hooligans through the streets of Santa Monica once a month. And tell everyone who’ll listen about how unfair the city is being.

While Santa Monica doesn’t have a local newspaper anymore, this is a story that’s tailor made for one of the alternative weeklies. You might also be able to get someone at the Times interested, such as Steve Hyman at the Bottleneck Blog.

Call every TV station. Call the radio stations and see if anyone will put you on the air to tell your story — especially Santa Monica’s public radio station, KCRW. Go to the 3rd Street Promenade and the Farmer’s Market and pass out handbills explaining the police harassment, and the city’s refusal to meet with you.

In other words, use every opportunity and forum you can think of to get your side of the story out there — without pissing people off at the same time.

Document your ride. Equip as many riders as you can with small digital video recorders. That way, you will have proof of what really happens if the police crack down again. Just remember, though — they can use it for proof, too.

Invite guest riders. Invite the press to ride along, and bring their notebooks and cameras. Let them see for themselves how harmless the ride is — and how heavy-handed the police reaction. If they see you getting tickets for violations that didn’t happen, they’ll report on it. And the public is a lot more likely to believe them than a group of rowdy riders.

Besides, wouldn’t you just love to see Paul Moyer on a Critical Mass ride?

Or invite a celebrity to join in. There’s no shortage of successful actors, musicians, models, etc., around here, and some of them love to ride. In this town, it often takes a lot less than six degrees of separation to find someone who knows them.

Just the presence of someone famous may be enough to get the police to back off. Let’s hope not, though. Because if you get a ticket, chances are, no one will really care. But if someone like that gets a ticket, it’s the lead story on Entertainment Tonight.

Contact the City Attorney. If the police really are acting illegally, the city attorney’s not likely to be very happy about it. And if you don’t get any traction there, go over her head.

Get a good lawyer. This is America, where litigation — or the threat of litigation — trumps all. There’s no shortage of cycling attorney’s around here; you may be able to find one willing to represent you pro bono through one of the cycling clubs, like Velo LaGrange. Or you might be able to get the ACLU or Common Cause interested; if not, they should be able to refer you to someone who will be.

Apply pressure. While a couple hundred CM cyclists probably aren’t enough to get the city’s attention, a couple thousand angry cyclists will — and that’s still just a small fraction of the riders who live in Santa Monica, let alone the tens of thousands who pass through every day.

So start a letter writing campaign. Ask everyone you know — and everyone they know — to write the Santa Monica city government and demand that they work with you to find a solution that will allow CM to go on, without causing undue inconvenience to city residents.

There’s always a comprise, if the city and the riders are motivated to find it.

Or go viral. Start an email campaign explaining your position, and asking people to email the city government. Then send it to every rider you know, and ask them to pass it on to every rider they know, as well as contacting every CM group in the country. When the city starts getting angry emails from Des Moines and Kalamazoo — potentially effecting their tourist trade — they’ll pay attention.

Use economic pressure. Again, if a few hundred CM riders stop shopping in Santa Monica, no one’s going to notice. But if a few thousand riders stop spending money in the city, people will pay attention — and the threat of a boycott is often more effective than the boycott itself.

So start an online petition. Ask people to sign a statement saying that unless the city stops writing illegal tickets and negotiates a reasonable accommodation allowing the rides to continue, they will stop spending any money in Santa Monica. No nightclubs, no restaurants, no (gasp!) Starbucks, no REI, no boutiques on Main or Montana.

Ask them to estimate the amount of money they spend in Santa Monica each week when they sign, as well. When the city sees the amount of money local merchants could lose, and the amount they could lose in taxes, they will pay attention.

And I’ll be one of the first to sign it.

Sometimes, a protest is justified

 

Feel free to copy & use this image. Or make a better one, and I'll post it here

Feel free to copy & use this image. Or make a better one, and I'll post it here.

Let’s go back to Alex Thompson’s report on the recent crosswalk protest in Santa Monica for a bit.

Whether or not you agree with their tactics — and judging by the comments, many don’t — or with Critical Mass in general, the key point to me is what lead up to the protest. Because Alex describes a rising level of frustration, as they repeatedly tried to deal with the local government, but were rebuffed and ignored at every turn.

From city council members who failed to speak to a single cyclist after promising to explore ways to accommodate the Critical Mass rides, to a scheduled meeting with the chief of police — at the urging of the city manager — which lasted all of 30 seconds before the chief excused himself.

Then there’s the matter of the apparent deliberate writing of false tickets by the S.M.P.D. Alex reports that the police issued over 30 tickets for “no light” violations, then repeatedly checked the box indicating that this was not a correctable violation — resulting in a significant increase in the cost of the ticket, from $10 to $100.

Or this, from a recent post on LAist about the latest Santa Monica Critical Mass ride:

“Santa Monica Police Officers were out in full force, riding motorcycles alongside the Santa Monica Critical Mass and citing cyclists for leaving the bike lane (not a violation of the law – CVC 21208), taking control of a traffic lane (not a violation of the law – CVC 21202) and turning left from a left turn lane. (again, not a violation of the law- CVC 22100).”

In other words, the local police were writing tickets for supposed violations that were not against the law. And they wonder why the Crimanimalz felt a need to protest?

Call me crazy, but when the police break the law in order to enforce it, something is seriously wrong.

Now, as a certified Angeleno, I may not live in Santa Monica, but I do spend a lot of time there. More to the point, I also spend a lot of money there — as do many other cyclists, I’m sure.
Which means that we help support the city’s many restaurants, retailers and nightclubs, as well as making a significant contribution to the city coffers.

And while I am not a fan of the tactics employed by Critical Mass — as I’ve said before, I find them counterproductive — I can’t see myself economically supporting a city that would ignore any group of citizens, cyclists or otherwise, who actively reach out for dialogue with city officials. Or who would allow the local police make up their own laws in order to rein in an activity they clearly disagree with.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting a boycott of local businesses. Not yet, anyway.

But the government in Santa Monica needs to wake up, start a dialogue, and stop the heavy handed tactics. And local business owners need to pressure their political leaders to find a way to accommodate everyone who lives in, or does business in, their city — without violating the law themselves.

Maybe the Crimanimalz and S.M. Critical Mass should hire a good lawyer. And start to consider tactics that could be far more effective than delaying traffic for awhile.

 

The Daily News says things aren’t so bad for cyclists in Los Angeles, and getting better. But I wonder if those 1,252 miles of bike routes, lanes and paths in L.A. County they refer to include un-ridable sections like sign for the designated bike route I saw on eastbound Pico at Sepulveda yesterday — which I would only recommend to someone with a death wish.

Meanwhile, Chicago’s bike meister tells Canadians to share the road. But the interesting part of the article in buried inside, where they mention new laws that prohibit “…opening a car door on a cyclist, parking or driving in a bike lane, passing within three feet of a bike, and turning left or right into the path of a cyclist…” with fines ranging from $150 to $500. And a minimum fine of $12,500 and up to a year in jail if careless driving results in the death of a cyclist or pedestrian. When we get laws like that, then our local pols can claim to support cyclist.

And finally, Bike Girl inspires Gary to rhapsodize on locking up.

Educating drivers, one at a time

I was a passenger in a car over the weekend, on the way to meet some friends. We were stopped at a red light, and watched as a cyclist came down the cross street, made a right turn, and continued on the street ahead of us.

He did everything right. He signaled his turn, entered the intersection on the green, and was riding on the right side of the right lane, as close as he could get to the parked cars without undue risk of getting doored. I was admiring the way he was riding legally, safely and courteously; the driver, on the other hand, was furious.

We were just a few minutes late. And the cyclist was in her way.

Now, this was a nice four-lane street, and we were the only car on the entire block. It would have been easy for the driver to swing around the cyclist and go on her way. Instead, she started raging about how he shouldn’t be there. So I pointed out that he was riding legally, exactly where he should be, and had every right to be there.

“I don’t care,” she said. “He doesn’t belong there. I should just run his ass over.”

She didn’t mean it, of course. She was following safely, if angrily. I said, “You know, that could be me next time.”

She didn’t care. She was late. He was in her way. Case closed.

I asked why she didn’t just go around him. She replied, “I can’t, there’s not enough room.” So I told her to just swing out into the next lane, which was completely clear, and would give her plenty of room to pass safely.

She did, and we went on our way, arriving at our destination just 5 minutes after our scheduled time, of which maybe 10 or 15 seconds might have been due to following the cyclist — who never knew he had an angry driver on his wheel.

And I realized just how far we have to go in educating drivers on how to share the road.

 

Last Friday, the good doctor had his first day in court resulting from the Mandeville Canyon Break Check. Both Streetsblog and LAist comment on the hearing, including amazing speed and convenience of his first court appearance, and how it was courteously arranged so he could avoid the press, as well as future hearings. Just wait — he’ll undoubtedly end up pleading to vastly reduced charges and get off with no jail time. (Note to gangsters and other assorted criminals: if you want to get away with a driveby, just use a car instead of a gun. And make sure the victim is wearing spandex.)

In other news, the Wall Street Journal looks at bicycling in Los Angeles, and pretty much misses the point — just like the researcher for Marketplace who wanted to know how the bad economy was affecting my relationship with my bike. Uh, how about the fact that it’s putting more pissed off people behind the wheel for us to dodge? LABC’s president discusses a member’s recent accident, and the lack of effective police action. And finally, a cyclist from the UK comments on Critical Mass, the latest local version of which takes place Tuesday — and check out his other posts for some lovely shots of cycling in the countryside near Cardiff.

 

Stop the presses! And blame the bikers!

Today’s Streetsblog picks up the story of the Seattle Critical Mass incident we discussed yesterday. And zooms right in on the fact that there are two sides to this story — except where the police and local press are concerned.

Now, I should mention right up front that I’m no fan of Critical Mass. I understand, and share, many of the philosophies expressed by CM riders, and there are riders whose opinions I respect who are active participants.

I simply think it’s counterproductive.

At a time when we’re struggling to get the respect and courtesy we deserve, CM reinforces the attitudes that many drivers already have — that cyclists are aggressive, arrogant, rude and inconsiderate, and have no respect for other users of the road. Let alone the law.

However, the blogosphere has been active in the wake of the Seattle incident, so I’ll let other writers address the questions of whether CM is right or wrong, and how — or whether — it can be fixed.

For me, the more interesting topic is the fact that, as the Streetsblog article points out, the local authorities and press immediately went into the standard blame bikers first mode. Instead of listening to the many bikers who said the driver was angry and aggressive and instigated the incident, they immediately assumed that he was the innocent victim. Or at the very least, justified in his actions.

Like the Colorado sheriff who decided the problem was bikers who ride two abreast, rather than careless and impatient drivers who can’t be bothered to pass them safely — even on nearly empty back country roads — the bias of law enforcement is almost always that the rider is at fault.

The simple fact is, if there is an accident, the police will assume that the rider did something to cause it, unless there is clear and compelling evidence to the contrary, as in the Mandeville Canyon brake check. And in most cases, even if the rider was blameless, the press will jump in with stories about riders who run red lights and flaunt traffic laws.

If we report a road rage incident, the police investigate it as a simple traffic altercation, rather than a violent crime — as they did when I was the victim of road rage, and ended up being threatened with arrest myself. If someone runs us off the road, it’s blamed on a momentarily distracted driver who just didn’t see us. If we report a driver or passenger throwing something at us, they call it littering. If they bother to call it anything at all.

Even in the well-publicized New York police v. CM rider case, it was the rider who spend 26 hours in jail, rather than the cop who assaulted him.

So unless and until the police — and the press that keeps them honest — stop automatically blaming the victim whenever cyclists and cars collide, and start treating assaults against cyclists as the violent crimes they are, we will never experience the equal protection we are guaranteed under the constitution.

And we will never be safe on the streets.

And let’s face it. It’s a dangerous world out there.

 

Today’s reads: The Mountaineerzz take to the hills, where the only traffic they have to worry about should be hikers and mountain lions. LAist has security video from inside a San Dimas bike shop when the Moderate One hit. (Just out of curiosity, was anyone out there riding during the quake? What was that like?) Bicycle Fixation discusses the potholes on the way to turning 4th St. into a bicycle boulevard. And finally, we have an update on the events that followed the good doctor’s brake check — who last I heard, was due for arraignment on Friday.

Blameless victims? Or two-wheeled vigilantes?

Now Seattle is up in arms over a road rage incident involving bicyclists. And once again, it’s the cyclists who are being painted as the bad guys.

According to news initial reports, last Friday’s Critical Mass turned violent when a group of cyclists attacked a driver. As these reports put it, the frightened driver tried to back up, hit a couple of bikes, then got scared and tried to drive away. The bikers chased him down, slashed his tires, smashed his windows and hit him with a bike lock, sending the frightened driver to the hospital with a head injury.

Of course, once the initial hyperventilating news reports aired, a more nuanced picture began to take shape as the real reporters — as opposed to the pretty heads on TV — filed their stories, suggesting that there might actually be two sides to this event. According to these accounts, the driver became angry and/or scared, as the riders may or may not have threatened to tip his car with him and his passenger in it. Then he tried to drive off, dragging injured cyclists with him, until he was chased down by bikers who forced him to stop.

And unfortunately, turned violent in retaliation.

As usually happens these days, though, the full picture only took shape online, as the local bloggers began giving first, or at least second, person reports.

Ryan provides the riders’ perspective, describing how his first CM went painfully wrong, as the driver tried to escape his corkage by accelerating through the riders in front of him, running over one cyclist as another held on for dear life. Even with a cyclist clinging to the hood of his car, the driver gave no sign of stopping, so the riders chased him down and forced him to stop.

Then the police — and reporters — took the standard approach and blamed bikers first. Apparently, both had already decided the driver was the victim, and neither seemed to have any interest in the bikers’ side of the story.

Meanwhile, Jonah talks with the driver himself, painting a very different picture of a frightened — and sympathetic — man, who felt intimidated by all rampaging cyclists who surrounded his car, and by his account, threatened him. He responded by revving his engine in an attempt to get the riders to back off, not realizing his car was in gear. It lurched forward and inadvertently struck a couple of cyclists.

He says the other bikers responded by trying to hit him or clinging to his car, so he began to speed off, then stopped when he heard someone say a rider was hurt. When he got out of his car to apologize, the riders attacked him and his car.

So who’s right — or more to the point in this case, who’s wrong?

Everyone.

Intentionally or not, frightened or not, the driver struck and injured at least two riders in an ill-advised attempt to escape corking.

The police and press — as usual — leapt to the assumption that the cyclists were at fault, and weren’t about to let the facts get in the way.

And — ignoring any questions about the propriety and effectiveness of Critical Mass and corking tactics — the cyclists were wrong for retaliating against the driver, however justified they may have felt at the time. Once the driver struck the cyclists, they should have simply taken down his license or taken a picture (I keep my camera phone in reach when I ride for exactly that reason) and reported it to the police. Then it would have been a clear case of hit-and-run, the cyclists, rather than the driver, would be seen as the victims, and both the police and press might have been a little more sympathetic.

Instead, everyone loses. Especially the biking community.

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